Archive for April, 2015

Part of the Flock 4-26-15

In this sermon, based on John 10:11-18, I explore what Jesus is saying when he calls himself the Good Shepherd. What does it mean to be in relationship with one that knows us?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/part-of-the-flock-4-26-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
It never ceases to amaze me how little things will pop up that give me insight into preaching…conversations that occur, moments that I witness…things that I overhear…there are countless ways…and this time around it was a short video that made the rounds on facebook of a mom laying down with her quadruplet sons draped all over her. The dad is behind the camera making funny faces or noises or something that is making the 4 boys laugh uncontrollably….the video itself is hilarious…but as I watched it I remember thinking to myself “Wow…4 identical babies…how in the world do those parents tell them apart?”
In all honesty, this is not a new concept for me either. I have often times found myself in the situation of encountering multiples…typically when they are quite young…and being unable to tell them apart…most recently, the twin sons of one of the pastors at our church in the Twin Cities…now my wife, who worked with the pastor and encountered the boys more often, she could take a look at them and usually be able to tell which one was which, but I was lost…couldn’t tell one from another. (Pause)
But then I got to thinking some more about this week’s gospel lesson…a portion of the Good Shepherd discourse…a section of John’s gospel that is featured here on the 4th Sunday of Easter every single year…for it is informally known as Good Shepherd Sunday…and this year, we hear the go-to section when Jesus actually calls himself the good shepherd…and not just once but a couple times through the course of this brief section. (Pause)
Now the interesting thing about this whole passage, not just the portion we shared today, but actually all of John chapter 10…is the theme of sheep…Last year, during Lectionary year A we heard the first portion…that there are sheep, and they are in a pen…and some individuals try to climb over the fence and steal the sheep, but Jesus is the gate and the sheep know him and follow his voice. (pause) Next year in year C we’ll hear more of the same…of the sheep following the voice of Jesus and that by following him the sheep have eternal life. (pause) And this year, its really more of the same…sheep sheep sheep…but more importantly…in today’s portion, we actually hear the famous words. I AM…the Good Shepherd. (pause) This year Jesus actually says it…but even more importantly he talks about by being the good shepherd…he knows the sheep and the sheep know him…and that’s why we hear in the other passages from the other years that they are so keen on following him…because there is an intimacy there…a relationship.
And that’s why I am constantly unable to tell twins apart…something that their parents can so easily do…because their parents know them…they know everything about them…and can tell them apart easily. (pause)
But I thought about that notion a little more…and then since we’ve been talking about sheep so much I got to thinking about livestock. Now…how many of you have ever driven past a herd of livestock…or better yet walked up to the fence and looked at that herd…really any kind of animal…and thought to yourself…how can you tell them apart? They all look the same? Ever had that experience? (pause) I know I have…but I’ve been on the other side of things too.
Many of you know that I’m a farm kid…and in my younger days…up till I was about 16 or so, we milked cows…and it is certainly safe to say that I knew those cows…It didn’t matter if they were in the barn, locked into their stanchions…or out wandering around in the pasture…I could tell at a glance which one was which…even though someone unfamiliar would look and see a big mass of black and white animals that all look the same…I could tell you which ones were easy milkers…I could tell you which ones would always step into the wrong spot to eat the feed of another…which ones were old, which ones were young…and I could darn sure tell you which one had most recently hauled off and kicked me…and I could tell you all of this…I could distinguish between them simply because I knew them…I was familiar with them.
And that’s the important aspect of what Jesus is telling us today…he is the shepherd and we know this because he knows the sheep…he loves the sheep…he’s familiar with them…he’s in relationship with them…we can even say that he’s intimate with them.
That’s the basis for the word that Jesus uses when he says that I know my sheep and they know me…just as the father knows me and I know the father…this Greek word “to know”…it implies intimacy…not just casual acquaintance…in fact it is the same word that describes the intimate way that a husband and wife “KNOW” each other…and if you aren’t catching my drift there ask me after the service and I’ll be happy to clarify for you.
And this is how Jesus describes the relationship that he desires…and the truly amazing thing about all of this is that Jesus desires this relationship with those that have been cast out of other relationships. (pause) He tells us that he has other sheep that do not belong to this fold, and he must bring them in also…and while that may seem somewhat clear…its important to note that this entire story…every single bit of this is actually in response to something that Jesus has already done.
Prior to the good shepherd discourse, Jesus has healed a man who was born blind…and throughout the entirety of John chapter 9, this man who can now see is going back and forth with the religious leaders who flat out refuse to believe that Jesus should be able to work this miracle…and in the end…when the man refuses to throw Jesus under the bus, the leaders cast him out of the synagogue…essentially they kick him out of their church…telling him that he has no place among them anymore…that he is no longer worthy of being in relationship with them….and after all of this has happened…Jesus finds the man…and Jesus, brings him into relationship…
This whole discourse…all of this talk about sheep and pens and shepherds…all of this comes down to the simple fact that Jesus…the one who calls himself I AM…the one that is God in the flesh dwelling among us…Jesus…desires to be intimately known by those that HE…already knows intimately. (pause)
And that includes not only this one guy cast out of the synagogue…but that includes each and every one of us…across time and around the world. (pause) I love it that Jesus says that he has other sheep that he needs to bring into the fold…because this tells us that the work of Jesus isn’t done yet…its still going on…it didn’t stop with those 12 disciples and a few ragtag other followers….that work is still going on…because the Holy Spirit, the spirit of God in the world today continues to bring more and more into this one flock with Jesus as the shepherd…
If that wasn’t true…then none of us would be here today would we? If the work of Christ to continue to come into relationship with all of his sheep wasn’t still happening then we would have never heard of him would we? (pause) But we have…because the voice of Jesus Christ is still calling out…the gospel of Jesus Christ is still moving through the world and will continue to move through the world until that one glorious day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord…that Jesus is the shepherd for his sheep…that he is the one who loves and protects us…that he calls out to us and one by one we recognize his voice and follow along after him. (pause)
But at the same time, we know that work isn’t done yet is it? Because all we have to do is look around in the world today and we see plenty of hurt…and plenty of pain…and plenty of that pain is inflicted between us…from individual to individual…and this, painful though it may be to see and to experience is simply evidence that the work of our Good Shepherd isn’t done yet. (pause)
I once heard someone talk about happy endings…and they mentioned that it sure seems like real life doesn’t have happy endings…and you know what there’s something to that…but I also heard them say that in the end there is a happy ending, and God has already promised it to us…so if everything’s not happy then its not the end…and I believe that is the case because I believe that this life giving work of our Good Shepherd isn’t…Done…YET…but I believe that as his followers…as those of us who do recognize his voice and follow along after we are called to join in the work of spreading his voice around so that one day we will…in fact…reach that glorious day that I mentioned earlier. (pause)
Now there are days when this task that God has called us as believers into seems pretty daunting…and there are days when we look around at the world and think its too much…its too hard…its too far gone…truly those times happen…and perhaps we get discouraged in those moments.
But on the flip side…we have other days like today…days when we welcome new members into our congregation…new members into this little corner of the worldwide flock of Jesus Christ…and we have days like today when a precious little child is brought to this font…where in a few moments Sophie Thorne will come…and like Sophie that individual is washed in the water…and they are marked with the cross of Christ…and for the first time…they are called Beloved Child of God.
Today Sophie is claimed as Christ’s sheep…one that he knows…and more importantly as one that Christ is willing to lay down his life for…that is the power of our baptisms…that we join with Christ in a death like his so that we may also join with him in a resurrection like his…for as he has told us…He lays aside life in order that he picks it up again…and in the waters of baptism we believe that Sophie, along with every other believer, has her eternal life taken up by Christ…not out of anything that she has done…but because He knows her…and he loves her…just as he loves you. Amen.

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Too Good To Be True 4-19-15

This week’s sermon is based on Luke 24:36b-48. This is Luke’s account of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples post-resurrection. I explore what’s going on when he eats with the disciples.

https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/too-good-to-be-true-4-19-15

You can also read along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a situation that was beyond your ability to believe it? One of those moments that is monumentous and wonderful that you can’t quite wrap your head around the notion that this is actually happening…simply because it is so unexpected? (pause)
I found myself thinking about moments like this…and as I thought back through my life…I can remember some pretty big moments…exciting, wonderful, emotional moments…like the day that I asked Emily to marry me…and our wedding day…the first time I held each of my kids…more recently there was the day I finally graduated from Luther Seminary after A LOT of years of work…and then finally the day that my old mentor drapped a red stole around my shoulders at my ordination.
These were all amazing moments…but they were moments that I knew were coming…moments that I worked towards…moments that I planned out…and so as wonderful as they were…these are not the moments that I’m talking about…those moments that happen out of the blue and take us completely off guard.
Now I’ve had some unexpected situations as well…random acts of kindness thrown my direction…or opening letters informing me of scholarships…and a few brushes with celebrities here and there…but in all honesty, I’ve never really had an experience of something so amazingly unexpected that I found myself saying “I can’t believe this is really happening right now.” And that was confirmed for me when a random posting on Facebook this week led me to a video of a young women who had been deaf since early childhood received a cocular implant and heard sounds again for the first time in over 25 years…hearing her husband’s voice for the first time…and she is overcome with emotion at this amazing gift…and you can hear her say through her tears of joy “I can’t believe this is real.” (pause)
And that right there…seems to be the situation that the disciples find themselves in within today’s gospel story. (pause) Now, admittedly, this story may sound kind of familiar…if you were here last week we actually heard John’s account of this same story…when Jesus appears in the upper room to the disciples for the first time post resurrection.
And perhaps that seems a little strange that we would hear the exact same story two weeks in a row…particularly when they are so similar…and yet here in these early weeks of the season of Easter…it likely serves as a good reminder for us…because when we think about it for a moment…and we get honest with ourselves…I think the joyous note of Easter morning tends to pass by pretty quickly…and all too often the notion that the tomb IS empty…and that Christ IS risen, fades into the back of our minds as we go back about our normal day to day life. And so, these repeated reminders that Jesus was really raised from the dead…and he really did appear to different people are important for us to continue experiencing.
And of the 4 Gospels, none of them does as thorough of a job of recounting these experiences than Luke…but it is, admittedly…a long tail. Easter morning…the women go to the tomb…and find it empty…and an angel tells them that Jesus is risen, but no one sees him…and the women go off to tell the disciples…who discount it as an “idle tail.” …idle tail…if you’re wondering…that’s the nice way of letting us know that the disciples though the women were full of crap.
But then we hear of two random disciples walking down the road, returning home, when they encounter the risen Jesus…but don’t realize it…at least not until he opens up the scriptures to them, and then when he breaks bread with them, their eyes are opened and they realize that it is truly Jesus…and they run back to Jerusalem to find the disciples and share that they have seen the Lord…and in the midst of this very conversation…confusing though it must have been…Jesus himself is standing in the midst of them.
And though they first think “IT’S A GHOST!” Jesus assures them that this, is not…the case. (pause) Look at my hands and feet…see the holes there…its me…and I’m really hear…touch me and see that I am flesh and bone. (pause)
And then we hear these tell-tale words…while in their joy, they were disbelieving and still wondering. (pause) Luke doesn’t say it hear, but I’m guessing that at least one of the disciple said those same words “I can’t believe this is real.” (pause)
Could you? (pause) Think about it for a moment…this man that they loved…this man that they followed…that they put all of their stock into, traipsing along after him for three years…watching the miracles…listening to the teaching…but more than anything…simply loving the man…and he died. There can be no doubt of that…Jesus…was…dead. Laid in a tomb where he remained for several days. And if logic tells us anything, both today as well as 2000 odd years ago…when someone’s dead…that’s it…there’s no coming back from that…all hope of resurrection aside…Jesus was dead…but now, it seems like that’s no longer the case…of course the disciples were confused…but happy too…because he was alive again…but just think about how mind-blowing this had to be in that instant when Jesus is suddenly standing among them…talking to them.
But then, God’s never one to do things that we expect is he? (pause) God seems to be one who likes to open a new can of worms every once in awhile…and in the midst of this incredible encounter…Jesus takes action…and opens up some other stuff too. There’s a greek word that I really like…so much in fact that Emily once got a sign made with this word for me…and the word is dianoigo…which means to open completely…and in the 24th chapter of Luke, we hear it a few different times…When those two disciples eyes are finally opened to recognize Jesus…its dianoigo…when Jesus is opening the scriptures to them…to see how they point towards him…its dianoigo…and now when Jesus explains those same scriptures to his disciples…its dianoigo as he opens their minds to understand how those Old Testament scriptures point towards the amazing work that God has been doing and is continuing to do within the world…but the awesome thing about this…is that it cannot begin to make sense to us until we can view it through the lens of the resurrection of Jesus.
It’s one of those things that can only happen in hindsight because prior to the resurrection of Jesus, we had no basis to place the love of God. But when we think about it now, doesn’t it make sense…that yah…of course we have a God that loves humanity so much that he chooses to do something about the great separation…that He would chose to do something about death…that he would chose to overcome it. (pause)
That’s all pretty amazing to stop and think about…but as we’re thinking about it, perhaps we’re also asking the question of just what does that mean for us today…and I think we get a glimpse of that…because in the midst of this encounter between Jesus and the disciples here in Luke’s gospel…Jesus does something a little odd…he asks for something to eat…and then he eats it right there with them. (pause)
I dunno…maybe its because I’m Lutheran…and we sure like food don’t we…we love our potlucks…but isn’t it true that some pretty amazing things always happen over food? And keep in mind this is Jesus…and he’s lived that fact…this is the man constantly criticized for eating with the wrong people…for sitting down and breaking bread with sinners…and tax collectors…and prostitutes…heck even the 12 disciples were considered to be the “wrong people.” (pause) Yet Jesus…God in the flesh, joyfully sat with them over a meal.
And Jesus promises us that when we break bread and pour wine together…he is there too…This IS my body…this IS my blood…this IS me…and so in a few minutes when we gather before the table and share in holy communion we remember that Jesus is here with us too…part of this meal…and perhaps that gives us just a little bit of pause…because if Jesus was criticized for sharing a meal with the wrong people…then what’s that say about us? (pause)
Well, maybe it says the truth…the truth about who we are…unworthy…unable by anything we say or do to earn the favor of God, yet recipients of it anyway…because God himself says that we are worthy and that when we share in the body and blood of Jesus Christ we receive the forgiveness of sins through the new covenant of his blood poured out for all people.
And I once heard it said that we know that it is truly communion…it is truly the Lord’s Supper when the wrong people are gathered around the table…because we are all the wrong people…yet God has claimed us anyway…simply to show us…that he is about love and acceptance…and that through the death of Jesus Christ on that cross he is finished with all that judgment and condemnation…and that in the resurrection of Jesus we are shown the promise that death HAS been overcome.
And this is the take away right here…the resurrection was not simply a feel good story…it was not a single event that happened 2000 years ago…and it not simply a promise to give us hope for the future…while these are all truthful statements, the resurrection is so much more than that…because we live in a reality now…today…where the resurrection from the dead is not just a possibility…it is a reality…and this is not simply hope for an unknown future…but it is a promise that we cling to today…and we not only cling to it…but we share it…because just as Jesus told the disciples, he tells us as well….you are witnesses of these things…and so we share that which we have experienced…that God has claimed us as his own…and that in the bread and the wine we experience the risen Lord…and even though it all seems too good to be true…we cling to it, because we believe that it IS true. Amen.

Peace To You 4-12-15

In this sermon, I tackle John 20:19-31. This is the story of Jesus’ first appearance to his disciples and includes the familiar passage of Doubting Thomas. In the sermon I explore the interesting first words that Jesus utters to his disciples and what they might mean for us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/peace-to-you-4-12-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As many of you have likely figured out by now, I am a nature guy…and not only plants, but animals as well…and perhaps this is one reason why I enjoy springtime so much, because all of nature seems to be waking up and getting out in the sunshine.
That was never so apparent to me in the past week than on Friday…following several cold, wet, rainy…and even…snowy…days through this week…the sunshine and warmer weather on Friday was certainly welcome…and at one point through the day I was standing at the window looking outside…and I saw several squirrels bouncing and running all around…playing as squirrels will do. Whatever it was that they were up to…it really looked like they were enjoying themselves.
And I’m not the only one who noticed either…because sitting in the windowsill, right next to me…was my cat…intensely watching the squirrels as well…and if I was to venture a guess…I think she wanted to be outside…joining in the fun. (pause)
Now here’s the thing about my cat…I’m pretty sure that she thinks that she too…is a squirrel. Perhaps its because she is all black…and she will often times see the all-black variety of squirrels that we have here in Underwood…but regardless…whenever she sees squirrels outside…she sits in the window…and she chatters at them…it’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard…and I wish I could understand just what it is she’s trying to say to them…but unfortunately, that’s just not a reality.
But if there is one things that’s apparent…its this…despite the obvious differences…cat…squirrels…inside…outside…she’s trying her best to communicate across those boundaries…and even though I can’t understand what she’s chattering at those squirrels, she’s clearly saying something….and she clearly desires interaction…relationship even…with those squirrels.
Likewise…in our story today…we see evidence of a lot of boundaries…a lot of differences. As per usual for the Sunday after Easter…the lectionary gives us the story of Jesus’ first appearances to his disciples post resurrection…which of course includes the commonly known story of Doubting Thomas. (pause)
Now from our perspective, Easter’s a week past…and we’ve been living with the reality of the resurrected Lord for several days now…long enough to get used to the notion of the empty grave and the resurrected Lord…but for the disciples, at least at the beginning of the story today…its only been a day…not even a full day in fact…as the story begins the very evening after Jesus has been raised from the dead…now here in John’s gospel we do hear that Jesus has appeared and spoken with Mary Magdalene…but that’s it…and we pick things up in a locked room…as the disciples…most of them anyway…have hidden themselves away out of fear that they might just share Jesus’ fate…Peter’s already been recognized…and since the Jewish leaders are on the warpath…perhaps they’ll be next. (pause)
And this is where something extraordinary happens…despite the locked doors…despite being hidden away…Jesus…finds them…and with no warning whatsoever…Jesus…the risen, resurrected Jesus…is standing among them…and I can only imagine just how startling that must have been for them…to have Jesus, the man who had been dead…suddenly standing there in their midst…and not only that…but talking to them. (pause)
Now I’ve often times found myself wondering just what Jesus looked like, generally speaking, but also in this specific post-resurrected instance. We don’t get a whole lot of information, but we know that his hands and feet still bear the marks of the nails…and he still has the hole in his side caused by the spear piercing his body…but beyond that, we don’t really know what else might be going on.
Perhaps he has something of a heavenly appearance…maybe it in some way looks like the transfiguration when his divine presences was shining through the human side…again we don’t know…but scripture does tell us in different places that there was a change…there was something different about him…and through the resurrection, Jesus took on the form that our bodies will have when we join in the resurrection…Still apparently human…yet different at the same time.
And so, with this difference…whatever it might be, Jesus is still here, among his friends…among those that he loves…and his first words are quite interesting…Peace be with you…or if we take the Greek quite literally…Peace to you…and there’s a couple of significant things about this…first off, his words are not quite what history would make us expect…for in almost every instance throughout scripture, when an individual encounters some sort of heavenly being…typically an angel…the experience seems to be terrifying for them…and across the board the being’s first words are always reassurance…Fear not…or Do not fear…or Do not be afraid…and so it seems that in those instances, the angel is addressing the immediate emotional state of the individual…and here’s the thing…we’ve just heard that the disciples gathered in that room are terrified…they’re scared…and that’s why they’ve got the doors locked…but Jesus doesn’t tell them “Don’t be afraid.” He tells them “Peace to you.” And not just once…but he repeats himself…and as we’ve discussed before, when something repeats in the scripture, its usually pretty important to take note.
“Peace to you.” He says it twice here to the disciples on Easter evening…and then a week or so later when he appears again…this time with Thomas present…he says the very same thing within the very same situation…Peace to you.
And if the example of angels teaches us that individuals receive reassurance based on their current emotional situation…then just what is Jesus trying to tell us with this statement…repeated over and over again…Peace to you. (pause)
Are the disciples concerned that he is angry or disappointed in them? Perhaps…after all, just a few days prior they’d all abandoned him…even denied him publically…not exactly a great final impression on their master…not to mention Thomas’ apparent lack of faith here within the story…and so is Jesus telling them to be at peace because he’s not upset with them? Well maybe…but I think there might be a little something more than that going on.
Because there’s another word that seems to come up over and over again…not only in this reading today…but all throughout John’s gospel. Believing…you might recall hearing it before, but in John’s gospel sin is failing to believe that Jesus is God…that’s it…and we even hear it in today’s passage that all of these things have been written down so that we might believe…that like Thomas we might go from being anti-believing to believing…and by believing that truly Jesus is Lord…that God has put on flesh and dwelled among us…that it is truly possible to be in relationship with God…that’s what this is all about…and in the end…that was the mission of Jesus in the first place…to make this relationship between God and humanity a possibility again…because that perfect relationship had been broken by the power of sin in this world.
And because of that broken relationship…because of the presence of sin in the world…we needed a renewed sense of peace between us…between God and Humanity…and maybe, just maybe…that’s what Jesus is talking…maybe that’s what Jesus was really accomplishing as he hung on that cross and uttered his final words It is finished…and with this work completed…that peace was now possible…and when Jesus appears in that room in the midst of the disciples…flawed men that they were…and he says “peace to you”…well maybe what he’s really saying is that there is now peace between God and humanity…peace and relationship where there had been division. (pause)
But you know what…there’s still more to all of this…because while the resurrected Jesus did stay here on Earth for a time, we also know that eventually he ascended into heaven…and so perhaps it seems like this newly established peace…this newly established relationship is again broken because he’s not here anymore…but Jesus did something about that as well…and we see that in today’s story as well.
For Jesus reminds us that just as the Father sent him into the world…he is now sending us into the world…and with that he breathes the Holy Spirit into the disciples…the very spirit of God…is within us…and that same spirit binds us all together…thoughout the ages and throughout the world, this same Spirit of God has been present, uniting us all into the one body of Christ here on earth…that’s the church…the physical embodiment of Christ and his love for all of humanity here on Earth in his absence, empowered and untied by the Holy Spirit. (Pause)
And here’s the really awesome part of all this…when we stop and think about how we receive the Holy Spirit…and its in the very same way that Jesus did…for in the waters of his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended from Heaven and rested upon Jesus…and likewise, we have been given the promise that in the waters of our baptism, we receive this same spirit.
And today, in just a few moments, three brothers are going to come up to this font…and one by one Oliver and Eivin and Soren Letnerwill be washed in the water…and they will receive the same promise…and as they are marked with the cross of Christ they will be claimed by God as his beloved children, and empowered with the same Holy Spirit…and they will join in a new relationship…not only joining together in relationship with all of us as fellow members of Christ’s body here on Earth…but joining together in relationship with God as his beloved children…made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This is the promise that is given to us in the waters of our baptism…that relationship is made possible…and that it is offered to us…it is given to us…and so today hear the words of Jesus Christ…the risen Lord…when he tells you…when he promises you…when he announces…Peace to you. Amen.

Still Waiting On The Ending-Easter Sunday 4-5-15

In this sermon for Easter Sunday I explore Mark 16:1-8. This is Mark’s account of the resurrection, but it’s abrupt ending and no real resolution seemingly leaves us hanging.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/still-waiting-on-the-ending-4-5-15-easter-sunday

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Of the many different things that I spend my free time on, I think it is safe to say that there are two that probably dominate the majority of my attention. Reading fiction…and watching movies. I pursue both of these with equal excitement…because I just love being immersed in a good story…and sometimes, I’m even lucky enough to encounter both mediums of story-telling at the same time. (pause)
I’m talking, of course, of movie adaptations of popular books…and the longer I’ve paid attention, the more I realize that MANY movies are in fact adaptations of some sort. Now some movie adaptations are done really badly…and fans of the original story will pick it to pieces…finding fault with every single aspect that fails to meet their expectations…but then there are other times when the film makers do a REALLY good job, resulting in a movie that really pulls it off…and I love it when I encounter a movie like this.
Honestly, I think its great…to be able to see the characters in the flesh…living out the story that had only existed in print…and in the images within my mind that the printed words help create. Honestly, in my humble opinion…for the most part…a movie adaptation of a good book is almost a positive experience.
But that being said, I’ve noticed a trend in recent years…particularly when movie makers set out to adapt a series of books to the big screen…and this trend is taking the final book of the series…and splitting it into multiple movies…and there are MANY examples I can choose from…The Hungers Games is in the midst of it right now as we wait for Mockingjay Part 2 to hit theaters this November…and a few years back it was the Harry Potter series as we watched Deathly Hallows Part 1 in November of 2010 and then had to wait until the following July to wrap up the story in Part 2.
Now, the theory presented by the film studios…is that the complete story is so big and so important that they really need to divide it into multiple films to be able to convey it properly…and they claim that part 1 is simply the beginning of the end…but we know the truth don’t we? They just want to turn one $300 million dollar payday into 2 $300 million dollar paydays right? (pause)
But you know what…as I’ve thought about some of these situations, particularly as I sat and watched Part 1 in both the Hunger Games and Harry Potter, I wasn’t that upset…because I had read the books…I knew the stories…and sure I was excited about the visual aspect of seeing it up there…but I didn’t mind the anticipation of it all.
But I do remember a time when filmmakers went with the 2 part aspect of finishing up the story when I didn’t know how it was going to end…and it happened all the way back in 2003 with the release of The Matrix reloaded…which cut to the credits right after a shocking reveal of the hero unconscious right alongside of the villain…and then making us wait 6 months to find out how it would all end.
It was SO FRUSTRATING…and they left me sitting on the edge of my seat…with no idea what was going to happen next. Good story telling? Yah maybe…a good marketing technique…absolutely…but at the same time, absolutely maddening in terms of absolution…because there just wasn’t any. (pause)
And I’ll be honest with you…when I pick up the Bible…and I turn to the resurrection stories…I want absolution…because here on Easter Sunday we are coming out of the long dark season of Lent…and this year, at least here in our little community…one that is perhaps even darker than usual with some tough events that have happened recently…and so we look to the gospel…and we’ve come to expect something from it…we’ve come to expect the glorious resurrection…and the appearance of Jesus, resurrected…especially after the darkness of Friday and his torture…and his death…and all day Saturday as we sit in the knowledge that Jesus is dead in the tomb…here on Easter Sunday we want to cue the trumpets…turn on the lights…and experience the joy of seeing the Savior of the World alive once more…
But today…the lectionary plays a bit of a joke on us…and we hear Mark’s account of the resurrection…and Mark, not only fails to give us much in the way of absolution…but Mark fails to give us an ending period…listen again to the way that Mark ends his gospel, here in chapter 16 verse 8…So the women went out and fled from the tomb…for terror and amazement had seized them…and they said NOTHING to ANYONE…for they…were…afraid… (long pause)
This bizzare and uttery abrupt ending of Mark has been a topic of debate for almost as long as the gospel itself has been in existence…Some people believe that the final part of the scroll simply got torn off…and that there was in fact more to the story…so much in fact that within a couple hundred years of the death and resurrection…different “authorities” actually wrote additional endings to Mark…I’m serious…you can find them in your Bible…footnoted as additions of course…But isn’t that crazy…to think that the author of the Gospel simply ends the story like this…seemingly right in the middle of a thought…and certainly without any sort of resolution to the story what so ever.
I mean, COME ON!!! Jesus was dead…there can be no arguing that…and these three women that come to tomb on Sunday morning were there to see it…we hear them named specifically in chapter 15…watching the death of Jesus and watching as his body is placed in the tomb…and now following the Sabbath they head to the tomb…and find the stone pushed away…and there’s no body to be found…for Jesus isn’t here anymore.
No longer is Jesus among the dead…and the women hear from the angel, we also hear the same words….YOU are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified…he has been raised…he IS NOT…here. (pause) And as he told you…he has gone on ahead of you…and you will see him again. (pause)
But we don’t…and neither do the women…and the crazy thing is…that these witnesses to the resurrection…or in the very least…these witness to the empty tomb…run away…and don’t tell anyone. (pause)
And so now we come around to this question once again…what do we do with this? What are we to think about this empty tomb…and this proclamation that Jesus has been raised from the dead…and that he has gone on ahead of us…out into the world?
What do we do with this? How are we…people who have heard this story over and over again all of our lives…joining with 2000 years worth of individuals who have also heard the story and likewise have come to expect to encounter the risen Jesus on Easter morning…how do we explain this ending…this lack of resolution? (pause)
I’ll be honest with you this morning…if you’re sitting there asking yourself that question right now…and perhaps you’re looking back up at me as I stand here before you today, thinking that I’m going to explain it for you…well, then I’m going to disappoint you this morning. Because these are valid questions…but I believe that they are questions that I CANNOT answer for you…but I will offer you a touch of insight…insight that actually comes from Mark’s gospel…just the opposite end of it. (pause)
Mark Chapter 1 verse 1 reads “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…” And according to Mark…the good news of Jesus doesn’t begin with his birth…but it begins right smack dab in the middle of the story, with his baptism and his ministry…and then Mark tells us about his ministry…filled with countless interactions with different individuals who encounter the Lord and are changed…but often times lack the understanding of just how it has happened…in fact Jesus own disciples…the men closest to him fail to understand just what’s going on…and in the end, he is betrayed…and he is tortured…and he is killed…and now today we hear…we don’t see…but we hear that he has been raised and he has disappeared out into the world where we will encounter him again… (pause)
And just as the women were amazed and terrified and I’m guessing pretty confused about this empty tomb…I think we share in this same confusion…Jesus was dead…but he’s not in that tomb anymore…and apparently, he’s not even hanging around it.
Apparently Jesus doesn’t have time to see if we understand it or not…because he’s got work to do out there in the world…and that…is where we go to start to find the answers to these questions that we have…to find the resolution of just what this empty tomb and abrupt halting to the story in Mark means.
We don’t find it in here…I’m sorry we just don’t…we find it out there…in the midst of our lives because THAT is where we encounter the risen Lord…and that means something different for each and every one of us because each and every one of us has a different experience. (pause)
So today, we sit here today…and we do celebrate the proclamation that we have come to believe that Jesus has been raised and he is no longer among the dead…and we rejoice in the promise that he has made that we will one day join with him in a resurrection like his…but in the midst of this, we also realize that the story is NOT over…that the work of God is still happening out there in the world…that we CANNOT simply tidy all of this up in a simple 15 minute sermon that answers every question and covers every contingency.
Rather, we have to go out there…and keep on living our lives…seeing where and when and how the risen Jesus Christ find us in the midst of our lives. (pause)
And I know that there is a lot of ambiguity in what I’ve said…and it hasn’t really resolved anything…but you know what…I think that’s what Mark intended when he wrote those final words…and left us all hanging with the question of “What comes next?”
And so I’ll ask that question…as you leave here today…having heard the proclamation that Jesus Christ is risen…well then…What comes next?
And then I’m gonna be a punk…and I’m not even attempt to answer it for you…because that’s between you and God. I’ll let the two of you hash that out…but I will tell you this…sometimes its just maddening to not know the resolution…and together with God, out there, we just have to live with it…because sometimes…Sometimes…

Don’t Point the Finger 4-2-15 Maundy Thursday

This evening’s Maundy Thursday sermon came from John 13:1-12, 20-35. This is John’s account of the Last Supper including the footwashing and I also included the exchange between Jesus and Judas. Though John’s account is typically not associated with the sacraments, I explore some sacramental themes.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/dont-point-the-finger-4-2-15-maundy-thursday

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
I am guessing that by now, most of you have figured out that I am NOT…a sports guy. I’m just not, and I’m okay with that. If its not a little white ball with dimples then I just do not pay attention…but I am constantly surrounded by people who are…and it always strikes me as funny when someone attempts a conversation with me in and around sports related situations.
Admittedly I struggle to understand it…its not that I don’t care…its just that I don’t understand it…but I always try my best to engage…and to cover my complete lack of knowledge of just what they are talking about…My son is one of them…and he covers random information on pretty much every sport out there…baseball…football…and right now the big one is of course, college basketball. I’m impressed by his knowledge…I am, I just don’t get it…and another one that will often engage with me is Dick Miller…bringing up the current news of Iowa State athletics…and though I never really pay attention to the games…I can always rest assured that Dick will keep me abreast of what’s going on.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the interaction, and I certainly appreciate the individual’s passion for whatever sport they are talking about…but its just not something I share…and because of that, I often times fail to wrap my head around whatever big news is going on in the sports world…and that was never so evident to me…especially in this part of the country…on a specific date last fall…November 30th, 2014…the date that news went public that the University of Nebraska…had fired…Bo Pelini…the head coach of the Huskers football team.
Apparently, no one else was shocked by this news…but it caught me off guard…because I couldn’t understand why…Pelini had coached the Huskers from 2008-2014…and during that time they had a record of 67 wins and 27 loses…and to me at least…that seems pretty positive…at least 9 wins every year…qualifying for bowl games…each and every year…so what was the problem? (pause)
Admittedly, I tend to ask this question whenever news breaks of some head coach of a college team or a pro team gets the boot…because I just do not understand why one person gets the blame when things don’t go quite right. Granted, I know that there are aspects to being the head coach that are far reaching…but it’s a team…its not one person…and so I ask the question…time after time…of why does this one person get such a bad wrap? (pause)
And that question right there…that is where Bo Pelini and fired head coaches connects into tonight’s gospel lesson. (pause) Here we are…Maundy Thursday…on the verge of the Passion…standing on the precipice of Jesus betrayal and arrest and torture and death…and in our story for tonight, we hear a snippet of the final meal that Jesus would share with those 12 men that he loved so much…those 12 men who were his disciples…those 12 men…who were his mission here on Earth. (pause)
And those 12 men included one that we like to single out don’t we? You know who I’m talking about…Judas Iscariot…Judas the betrayer…the one that would hand Jesus over to the authorities…none of the Gospels make any great secret about this…and understandably so, because they were all written after the fact…and likewise we share the benefit of hindsight…of knowing the full story…and so whenever we hear about Judas, perhaps we grimace just a little bit…and we judge him…we point the finger at him. (pause)
Now just a few days ago…last Sunday morning…our gospel was the Triumphal Entry as Jesus comes riding into the Jerusalem to the cheers of the city…and we heard in Mark’s account that there was zero opposition…and we explored the difficult nature of this reality…that there was no one that we could point out…no one that we could call out…no one that could take the moniker of Bad Guy…therefore taking the pressure off of every other person who would also go on to turn their backs on Jesus…but now…we hear differently don’t we. (pause)
Now we have someone to single out…someone to point the finger at…and even the text makes no qualms about it…because we hear immediately at the beginning of the story…the beginning of John’s account of the Last Supper that the devil had ALREADY…put it in the heart of Judas to betray Jesus…and not only do we know it…but Jesus knew it too…because he knew now that his hour had finally come…and that he was about to depart from the world…and despite that reality…Jesus willingly walked into this time with his disciples…this final time to teach them…to share time with them…to love them…even knowing full well…that Judas was among them…knowing that evil lurked among them. (pause)
And now…the Last Supper…it’s a great story isn’t it? One that’s familiar…though as per usual John’s account gives us some differences when compared to the other three…The overall length of the Last Supper in John is remarkably longer, as Jesus addresses the disciples over the course of chapters 13-17…commonly known as the farewell discourse…and in addition, we also hear the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples…taking the role of the servant and humbling himself to show them the lengths that God is willing to go in order to be in relationship with those that he loves. (pause)
But regardless of the various stories…I think for most of us…when we think about the Last Supper…our minds tend to shift over to thoughts that are a little more sacramental in nature…as well they should…because in the context of the Last Supper we hear familiar words, not here in John but in the other accounts…that in the night in which he was betrayed he took bread and broke it and gave it to his disciples. (pause)
You know these words…we hear them in worship on a regular basis…and we will hear them again later on this evening as we prepare ourselves for Holy Communion…the time when God uses simple things like bread and wine along with his promises to come to us and assure us that Jesus will endure his body being broken and his blood poured out for you…for the forgiveness of sins. (pause)
That’s the direction that our minds often go when we think of the Last Supper…and it is understandable that many congregations will highlight Communion within the context of Maundy Thursday…tonight is a night when many young people will experience their first communion around the world…sharing along with the disciples…their first experience with the body and blood of Jesus. (pause)
And perhaps if we consider John’s account, including the washing of the disciples feet, then our minds will slip over to thinking about baptism as well…and rightly so…for that is a time when we believe that God washes us clean from the power of sin and death…just as Jesus washes the dirt away from those that he loved. (pause)
But now here’s the thing…within the story that we shared tonight…taken from John’s account…we have to try pretty hard to find much evidence of the sacraments…but…they…are…there…if we take the time to look for them. (pause)
Within the familiar passage of the footwashing, we hear that Jesus approaches Peter as he makes his way around the table…and after initial resistance, Peter asks that Jesus wash his hands and head…in short he is saying “Jesus…please wash all of me” which would be very similar to the request to be baptized, which in those days was full emersion…yet Jesus tells him…Peter, you are already clean…if I say it is so, then it is so…and just as we are washed in the waters of our own baptisms…we hear the promise from God that we are cleansed from our sinful selves. (pause)
But what about communion…where do we find that? Well, when Jesus begins telling his disciples that his heart is troubled…because there is one among you that will betray me…they ask him who it will be…and he tells them that the one that I give this bread is the one…and he takes a piece of bread…broken from a loaf…and he dips it…and you can pretty much bet that he dipped it in wine…because that’s what they drank in his day…and when he had done this…he handed it to Judas. (pause)
The only hint we have of Communion in John’s account of the Last Supper is Judas…the one who is about to betray Jesus…the one who the devil has already singled out…the one who personifies the presence of evil here during this holy time…Judas is the one to receive the bread and wine…and Judas had his feet washed by Jesus as well. (pause)
And isn’t that telling? Tonight as we look forward to the passion…the anguish in the garden and his arrest that happen yet tonight…the trial and the torture and his death on the cross which happens tomorrow…we are on the verge, yet Jesus shows his love for us tonight by offering the means of God’s grace to the very one who would inevitably betray him. (pause)
And now what does that tell us about God’s grace? (pause) If he is willing to offer it to the one who he flat out knows will reject it and betray him…then we see that when we are offered the grace of God…the promise that we are washed clean from the power of sin and that through his body and blood we receive the forgiveness of sins…we see that surely this promise is true…because the grace of God is that big…he’ll offer it to the one who personifies evil…and likewise he offers it to us…even though we know within our hearts that the darkness that consumed Judas also resides right here. (pause)
On Sunday we had no one to blame…no one to point the finger at…because no one opposed Jesus…but by tomorrow…everyone has turned their back on him…including us…and so tonight…rather than point the finger at the easy target…we realize that we need the grace of God just as much as he does…and praise be to God that He is willing to give it to us…simply because he loves us too much not to. Amen.